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A Touch of Class: The GOProletarian Revolt Rolls On

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As many pundits have noted since the close of Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses, there is a fundamental difference between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and defeated Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. It has absolutely nothing to do with their respective stances on hot-button social issues, but everything to do with a very touchy subject matter in American society: class.

Simply from watching brief clips of each candidate’s victory party on Tuesday night, it was apparent that neither one had the same sort of attendees. In Romney’s ballroom, a finely dressed, impeccably mannered crowd that could easily serve as a collective personification of the term “preppy,” was assembled. In Santorum’s crowd, which seemed to be gathered in a conference center of some sort, the cheering supporters wore dungarees and hoodies, held campaign signs up for the cameras as their favored candidate spoke, and in summary, came off as being a bit less groomed, in every sense of the word, than the Romney backers did.

No sooner were both presidential aspirants finished speaking than the commentariat picked up on this with blazing speed. Bill Kristol, participating in a FOX News roundtable, noted that Santorum could appeal to independent voters who are socially conservative and economically liberal, an untold number of which can be found residing in small, depressed towns dotting the Rust Belt. Romney, on the other hand, had the ability to court affluent suburbanites of the exact opposite political bent in the pivotal New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC metropolitan areas. New York Times columnist David Brooks, meanwhile, fired off an article which analyzed Santorum’s support base as amongst the “white working class” with only “high school degrees and maybe some college”, deducing that the former senator attracted many due to a perspective that is “not individualistic” and which is rooted in “Catholic social teaching.”

I predicted this sort of conservative class conflict long ago with the then-rapid ascent of Sarah Palin. In a nutshell, it pits the populous lower income, less educated, and highly reactionary sociocultural conservative bloc, which I titled the GOProletariat, against the much smaller, but better earning, more well rounded, and eminently reasonable traditional center-right establishment. The near total disconnect between these two vital wings of the Republican Party only stands to produce a long and varied series of problems down the line. Addressing it no doubt will be most difficult, but it is of the utmost importance if a unified partisan apparatus is ever to be anything but wishful thinking. It would require GOProletarians to temper their unbridled emotionalism with cool reason, dropping the notion of identity politics along the way, while establishmentarians would be forced actively to consider the oft ignored unbridled masses’ heartfelt concerns. Neither faction would find success in every quandary but, like it or not, compromise really is the only feasible recourse available.

It seems that the ensuing primaries will not only provide sufficient political theater, but a surprising amount of food for sociological thought as well. Not too shabby for a race that otherwise shatters the abysmally low standards of intelligence set by its predecessors.

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About Joseph F. Cotto